Saturday 28 February 2015

Gotta get down low sometimes

The Safari was at a loss for what to do today. Wifey was having a well earned long lie in so we opened the kitchen blinds and just watched the world passing by for a while. A pair of loved-up Woodpigeons courted on the pergola and a slow but steady stream of avian visitors came to the feeders as the drizzly rain fell.
The drizzle turned to a 'mizzle' before stopping completely mid-morning so we had a mooch up the garden path going very quietly to see if there were any Frogs in the pond. We'd been out with the torch without success last night as the temperature was very mild. No Frogs this morning either but we did see that the mizzle had left droplets of water on a strip of moss growing between the paving slabs on the patio.
Recently we told you we couldn't find our snazzy flash-gun but as luck would have it we came across is yesterday hiding in plain sight. Time for it to see some action!
The super-macro lens had an outing too. With the subject growing low on the ground the only way to get a pic is to get down to that level, good job the ground had dried out a bit in the wind and that twisting screen on the back of the camera really does help prevent a serious crick in the neck.
There truly is a beautiful world in miniature out there, one we hope to explore more often this coming season. Gotta be all manner of goodies to find down there.
The rest of the day we kept an eye on the birdlife coming and going. We ended upwith 11 species, just couldn't make the dozen, where were those Long Tailed Tits that have been popping in and out recently when you want them, or one of the Collared Doves that co-coo-COOs from the neighbour's aerial when we're leaving to go to work .
The totals were, the two Woodpigeons , a pair of Great Tits, two Blue Tits probably a pair as they were together, Goldfinches, an unknown total coming and going through the day, at least four Greenfinches, great views of a Wren very close to the kitchen window, they've not been a particularly frequent visitor so far this year, a female Chaffinch was using the 'secondary' feeder and later a very bright male, the pair of Magpies were in and out usually ripping great chunks out of the suet block but one of them also came to try to rip live twigs off the Silver Birch tree, not sure why as there are similar sized twigs lying on the ground from recent pruning activities - very fresh ones are more flexible? - he didn't manage to brake any off, it took a while before a Blackbird showed up and he too laid in to the suet block, the temperature this arvo was a mild 9C but the birds musta been feeling the nippy wind that was getting up. The last species in the notebook was a pair of Dunnocks complete with armpit showing wing flicking display and bouts of chase me chase me.
We had an early evening look for some Frogs but no joy again, we'll try later as it's started raining again and the thermometer is still showing mild temperatures - come out come out wherever you are - they've gotta be a-croakin soon.
Where to next? Our usual late start on a Sunday but we have a long distance plan - well not quite as long as last Sunday.
In the meantime let us know who's down there close to the ground in your outback

Friday 27 February 2015

The signs of spring are everywhere

The Safari has been noticing a large increase in the signs of spring these last few days staring in the garden at Base Camp where the Clematis is shooting nicely and the Crocuses are adding a bright splash of color
Around town on the verges the Crocuses we planted 15 or more years ago as some of the million bulbs we planted for the Millennium are showing a riot of colour now, the Daffodils will be out shortly.
Outside the front door at work there is a mystery plant, it's got us really stumped but will probably be IDd as something really obvious - answers on a digital post card please.
Looks a bit Lesser Celandine-y but not quite
Yesterday afternoon we were invited to a site visit and project update at the nature reserve. We arrived a bit early and were able to have a look at the other engineering work being done at the spillway by the Environment Agency - it's coming along nicely; the new 'river' is taking shape.
Rule 1 don't shoot into low sunshine with a dirty lens - hope you can see the works. The old spillway to the right is still flowing but will be collapsed/demolished in due course
Going through the gate one of the Hawthorns in the hedge is well advanced and many others have plenty of green showing through opening buds
We were shown some of the habitat work the volunteers had done earlier in the week - wow - impressive, the Whitethroats and Willow Warblers are going to love it when they arrive in April, they could even risk losing a few more of the shrubs where they are growing close together.
We had to have a sneaky peek at the Long Eared Owl too, and there it was on its usual perch, looked like it had hardly moved a muscle since the last time we saw it.
Time for the first look at the works where the new 'panoramic' hide is going. The circled area is the start of the raised mound it will sit on. It's got a way to go yet at full height it'll be well above the top of the reeds. The dashed line is the route of the path which will lead to it up a graded slope.
It used to look like this
There's a huge patch of mud to the right which has covered the original vegetation but thankfully there wasn't anything of real note there. It'll be interesting to see what comes up, other than Phragmites (Common Reed) and Phalaris (Reed Canary Grass) that is.
There were Cetti's Warblers singing all around us, the works certainly haven't put them off! Song Thrushes too where very noticeable, they seem to be well on the way to recovery after the national population crash in recent years.
A look through the fence at the island works showed them to coming along nicely, provided the rain keeps away.
The walk back - it's still not possible to complete thee circuit and wont be for a few weeks yet - gave us cracking views of a Barn Owl (MMLNR #71) flying out to hunt. A good end to a good visit. We're going to get a group together to build a superb replacement for the box on the island next winter ready for the 2016 breeding season, Swallows might be beneficiaries too.
No news today we've been to busy in the office to get out other than quick looks at Patch 2 where nothing special was on offer. We had hoped fro another site visit to check out our 'Grass Snake' site for a volunteer work party next weekend but got waylaid by the computer, we'll do it on Monday.
Where to next? It's the weekend, a safari is deffo on the cards and we have a bit of a target to aim at  if we can get there.
In the meantime let us know who hasn't moved a muscle since last week in your outback

Wednesday 25 February 2015

The nature elves have been busy today

The Safari was out early to the local little woodland on the way to work if we take the inland route. A rather bonny fungus has been found in there and we had to have a look. The woods were damp from overnight rain and birdsong filled the air, as much as it could above the noise of the traffic, bring on quiet electric vehicles with 'quiet' tyres as soon as maybe please. We knew roughly where to look and soon found the spots of bright red among the brown and green hes of the woodland floor. There on an old moss covered fallen log was what we were looking for - a beautiful display of Scarlet Elf Cup fungi. They were rather larger than we'd imagined the biggest ones being about an inch or more across, when we've seen them before they must have been younger specimens as they were only about the size of your little finger nail.
Well chuffed we had a quick wander through the woods was filled with wonder as we listened to the birds and hoping to catch a glimpse of some of them, we had a target in mind. Wrens and a Goldcrest were seen along with a Blue Tit giving a nest box a serious inspection. Song Thrushes vied with Blackbirds for the loudest voice but we didn't see or hear our quarry.
Under foot green shoots broke through the leaf-litter including lots of Snowdrops and newly unfurled leaves of Ramsons washed clean by the rain - it' s going to be smelling of garlic in there soon.
We retraced our steps back to the Scarlet Elf Cups and above them we saw a Jay (MMLNR #70) fly in to the top of the tree. This area is part of our recording area for our Patchwork Challenge this year. Result, as we saw it fly off we looked back and it was still there - TWO! Swinging the camera round we fired off of few shots only to realise that it was still set for small fungi on the dark woodland floor. Oops.
A Jay - honest!
Once at work we had another gull count on Patch 2 where there were over 750 mixed gulls feeding on the shellfish wrecked up by yesterday's rough weather. There were Lesser Black Backed Gulls (P2 35) out there for the first time. 184 Oystercatchers were out there too with about an uncounted dozen or so Redshanks. We didn't have time to look at the sea unfortunately.

A bit of research at lunchtime revealed Scarlet Elf Cups to be Red Listed in Europe despite being found widely around the world on all continents except Antarctica. They aren't officially recorded in town or the wider area but we've been told they've been in the woods there for several years and were noted in a report on the site's fungi a few years ago.
Here's a screenshot of the NBN map

We've seen them at the very well recorded and reported Leighton Moss RSPB reserve north of Lancaster, note the absence of purple squares up that way...hmm some serious data inputting is needed.
And there's more! Mid-afternoon news broke of a Green Sandpiper easily twitchable on the way back to Base Camp after work. We offered BD a lift if he could get to us before we set off. He's not had a lot of luck with this species, in fact he's had no luck at all as he's not seen one ever, all the ones he's been to have managed to successfully avoid his lens and bins without much trouble.
At last an easy one we pulled up got out of the Land Rover scanned the pool and there it was with a Curlew. Green Sandpiper (115), if only they would drop in a the nature reserve more often than hardly ever. Thanks FB - we owe you another one!
This time of year it's well worth stopping of at your local woods before work and having a few minutes mooch about - it'll set you right up for the rest of the day!
Where to next? Who knows it's been a bit lively up this way so far this year.
In the meantime let us know what's brightening up the woodlands in your outback.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

A surprise trip to South Wales

The Safari hasn't been able to get out to find anything for you today but fortunately our Extreme Photographer has sent some pics over in recent days about his new place in the country. It's a small cottage set in a farmyard out in the sticks and it has a fairly large pond. He tells us the pond has been the subject of intensive study by a local prominent entomologist and apparently is full to busting with dragonflies. Roll on summer, that's what we say!
It needs a bit of work as there is an invasive garden centre weed in there that's swamping the native plants, he'll do some raking out as time permits.
He's put up a feeding station that's attracting a good variety of birds already. He asks you excuse the pics as they are taken through still dirty windows - if time permits a hide will be built outside.
The Jackdaws are a greedy pain now they've learned how to attack the feeders and are costing him a fortune in seed.
He had a short trip out on Sunday before the weather closed in. He was looking for a Great Grey Shrike which wasn't there but he did find some interesting boxes, for Dormice...we've never seen one of those anywhere ever.
We hope you enjoyed the trip down to Pembrokeshire, we sure we'll be back there before to long with all manner of invertebrate and other non-avian news for you.
Where to next? News broke today of a super little thing that as far as we're aware is the first for the local and perhaps wider area, deffo worth a look in the morning but what do you think it might be.
In the meantime let us know who's been stuffing their face on your hared earned in your outback.

Monday 23 February 2015

A much much bigger marsh this time

The Safari went on a bit of a roadtrip on Sunday, somewhere we've not been for about 17 or more years. We'd been invited to join the high tide watch at the famous RSPB reserve by young volunteer FW. He's an old hand at this venue but still only turned 13 earlier in the week. The journey started well as we loaded the car for the day but as soon as the doors were shut the rain started and the wind picked up, sleety rain at that.
Before setting off we'd read a few Twitter feeds and a blog or two and noticed the last line of this one and we had a strange inkling that he might have come all the way up this way and it's a long way from his home in the East Midlands, double the distance we'd traveled and we'd traveled through some horrid snow showers to get here. We pulled round the corner onto the Promenade, saw the pavilion folk were watching from and there, as if by magic, he was...spooky!
We joined our long-standing birding chums of many years and also briefly met LMcR of AFON and lots of other folk who's photos and commentary we enjoy on Twitter - very nice to meet you all at last, we're sure our paths will cross again fairly soon.
On arrival we learned we'd just missed a Great White Egret but were hopeful as it hadn't gone far just in to a creek out of sight.
Being birthday time a rather delicious cake appeared and plenty for everyone - thanks H - yummo

Looks like we've done something horrible to IH in the background
The tide was still well out and after meeting and greeting we decided to get out of the cold and wet and get some lunch in the pub, rashly or generously we left our scope in the hands of the assembling crowd - good job they're an honest bunch. Young HW joined us and we kept an eye on the group stood out in the elements through the window making sure they weren't all staring intently at something we were missing. They weren't they were just stood round chatting.
All of a sudden through a different window we saw a load of Lapwings and Starlings lift and swirl round. Little H dashed to the window and shouted "it's a Merlin!" Great ID skills from the young 10 year old!
After lunch we rejoined the others and saw that the tide was now well risen. A pair of Red Breasted Mergansers were fishing in the pool in front of us. There were a few Little Egrets around but still no sign of the Great White Egret, never mind there was plenty of time for it to be flushed out of its creek by the rising waters.
We were asked to cast an opinion on a raptor sat way out on a piece of driftwood. It was small and pale so a Merlin was the verdict, was it the one H had seen earlier?
A shout of "Hen Harrier" went up from MA and looking to our right a 'ring-tail' (113) was coming towards us out on the water's edge. It wasn't long before a second appeared; excellent! We've not seen one for a couple of years and then two in a matter of minutes. This one was closer as the tide was now advancing very rapidly. We got super views but didn't take any pics, too excited just watching them we're afraid.
There was a flurry of activity as the water reached the last dry bits of marsh forcing waders and ducks to find the driest 'heights'. There were Teal, Wigeon, Shelducks, Mallards, Snipe, Redshank, Oystercatchers, Curlews and more Little Egrets all looking for somewhere dry to roost. Even a couple of Cormorants flew out of the creeks and out into the estuary.
Both we and MA picked up a distant fast low raptor at the same time which we lost behind someone's head but must have landed somewhere out there;we both thought Peregrine but no-one else got on it.
The tide was being pushed out of the river by the strong wind today and so took longer to reach the wall so we missed the small mammals escaping the flood. Many would have been eaten or drowned on the previous couple of days higher tides anyway. Some of our party saw a couple of large Brown Rats but that was about it. There was still no sign of the Great White Egret  - so a bad dip.
With a recent birthday to celebrate at Ma n Da's we had to leave but a minor detour to another site where a Laughing Gull has been hanging round for a couple of weeks or so.
The tide was still high so the chances were it would be on its favoured spot on the pontoon in the marine lake with the roosting waders. We were lucky to get a very close car park space as it was petty busy down there. Two lads were already there sheltering under the canopy of the lakeside shops looking at the pontoon - a good sign. Or not so good as it turned out, they'd been braving the driving sleet for half an hour or more and not seen it.
We looked through the assembled waders, mostly Redshanks and Turnstones with a few Dunlins and Purple Sandpipers there too - no sign of our American friend though; dohhhh not another dip? We gave the gulls on the on the water a look, it wasn't with them. Then a movement on the pontoon caught our eye, scanning back there it was plain as day, musta flown in from the sea - Laughing Gull (114).
With the fierce weather conditions we didn't bother with the nearby Snow Buntings, musta been bad as we still need them in our Year List Challenge with Monika. Just hope we get them later in the year or we don't draw or  get beaten by one species!
Birthday duties done it was straight back to Base Camp along the dark wet motorways. As we approached our exit junction a Barn Owl ghosted along the rough grass too our left - A good end to a great day.
Where to next? Back on familiar Patch 2 territory tomorrow provided the wind doesn't throw the sea over the wall.
In the meantime let us know who's gliding gracefully over the marsh in your outback.

Saturday 21 February 2015

A little marsh today

The Safari was able to get out for a look at the very high tide, the highest for over 20 years, at the local tiny saltmarsh. We picked up BD on the way and hopefully he'd be able to get the Jack Snipe pics he's been hoping for - today was bright and sunny (warm! out of the wind) and not too windy, ideal conditions really.
The tide was already lapping the outer edge of the marsh, only 100 yards away, and almost all the birds that pre-roost there had left apart from a few Curlews.
The water drew nearer and started to flood the marsh flushing out a few small wisps of Snipe and a flock of Knot flew past. An idiot woman let her dog charge through the now wet marsh which flushed at least another 10 Snipe and two Jack Snipe both of which plonked back down as soon as they could but their time in the marsh was limited.
We stood and watched and waited. A nice flock of Linnets came by and a few Meadow Pipits too. Feeding along yesterday's strandline were a handful of Reed Buntings.
The marsh was eventually covered and the beach rapidly following suite when more Jack Snipe started to appear.
About half an hour before the top of the tide which will reach the toe of the dunes
The last bird out was a Water Rail, we've never seen one fly so high or so far as this one climbed over the dunes to land in the enclosed water works area safe from people and, more importantly, their dogs. The vegetation was now fully covered and we walked the few yards through the dunes to the lake we watched the Red Throated Diver at the day before yesterday. BD is getting in to mosses and showed us several different species growing on the higher strandlines and on bare areas of sand in the dunes. Beautiful but tiny forms, we'll have to get the macro lens out and do some serious studies of them.
Our main reason for a wander round the lake wasn't the diver but the Scaup which had put in an appearance yesterday and which we'd dipped on there earlier in the year. Unfortunately we dipped it again as it hadn't flown in off the river today. The diver was still there though but well out. It was worth the walk round to the far end passing the same flock of Jackdaws as we'd seen the other day, stunning iridescence on them in the sunshine today.
The diver floated nearer to the bank and had attracted quite an entourage which included many of our birding friends. It was still a bit far for our camera but BD had seen a Turnstone poking around between their feet on the edge of the lake.
Ominous black clouds threatened and we still had a fair walk back to the car so it was time to beat a hasty retreat. Just made it! Phew - that shower was heavy and icy.
Where to next? A slightly bigger marsh to watch tomorrow's high tide at.
In the meantime let us know who's leaving it to the last minute to leave your outback

Friday 20 February 2015

A dart round to the mud-fest

The Safari had a quick look at the engineering works at the nature reserve this afternoon. Since we were last on site the Visitor Centre is coming on leaps and bounds and looking from the Fylde Bird Club hide there was a goodly dollop of mud to be seen.
It's starting to look quite different out there. We walked quickly round noting the carnage along the pathway, it looks really bad now but once they've finished and bladed it back you'll hardly know they've been by the end of the summer...and who knows next year that patch could be full of Bee Orchids.
We stopped to see if any of the Long Eared Owls were in view - one was, and very much in view it was. We only had our bins and phone with us - actually we did have our camera with us but its SD card was still in the slot in the puter back at Base Camp - dohhh schoolboy error!
We had to improvise with a bit of digi-binning.
A chat with one of the drivers had us worried about the weather, they really need it to stay dry so they can crack on a pace. Rainy days, he told us, really holds them up as the dumper truck gets bogged down and can only go slow in the mud. They've also found more soft earth and less clay than expected, they need hard clay to build the mound to place the new panoramic hide on.
The flat bit beyond the fence isn't the finished level.

Hope they can reach that Willow in the reeds to the right of the big mound of earth.
There's a Buzzard in the picture. The lads tell me it sits up there waiting for the machine to unearth worms or grubs n stuff.
Coming back to the Land Rover we spotted another huge pile of earth that wasn't there last week.
Beginning to look something like - just hope it doesn't rain this week. As we left the lad we were speaking to was out on the island with some marker paint spraying up some levels.
Where to next? Something marshy this weekend for the very hide tides.
In the meantime let us know who's been making all the holes in your outback.

Thursday 19 February 2015

A regularly seen bird totally out of context today

The Safari was going to blog about all the shameful and nasty things we Humans are doing to the natural world at the mo; you know, the world we we rely on for our life support systems - There is no Planet B. But that would have been dismal and depressing. Instead today's blurb is now far more uplifting and beautiful rather than the blood, guts and destruction you were going to get. So enjoy what the natural can really offer us, something good for our souls, something to make our minds wonder, something to simply enjoy just because it IS. Something that's not for our blood lust and/or profit.
We've been following the progress a Red Throated Diver on the marine lake not too far from work. Stunning pics of it appeared on the social media networks last night so we hoped it would still be there this morning. It was news was released early by Young Un AB presumably on his way college. At lunchtime we took a longer than usual break and drove the three miles or so down there and promptly parked up in totally the wrong place. We should  have gone all the way into the far car park but opted for the bowling green car park in the centre of the site instead. A walk to the water’s edge didn’t reveal our quarry, maybe it was behind the island, We walked to our left to the cafĂ© to get a better look at the far side of the island – it was then we heard a knocking on the window behind us. A gentleman with a big camera was trying to tell us something but we couldn’t hear him through the double glazing. He was good enough to meet us at the door and explained that the bird was tucked in asleep along the far bank. We scanned left of where we’d been looking and there it was fast asleep close to the bank.
We opted not to get in the Land Rover and drive round but walk – which way left or right – was going to be quickest – left won and we set off at a brisk pace. Half way there a woman started throwing bread from the ducks and white geese and her dog was running round causing a commotion – dohhhh please don’t go we hoped as thought that the diver might be flushed raced through our mind. It did nothing more than swim further out in to the middle of the lake barely awakening from its slumbers – phewwww
We normally see Red Throated Divers as a hazy dot way out on or over the sea on Patch 2 only very occasionally do we see them close inshore but never ever this close.
We cautiously walked down the grassy bank and got into position lying down on the grass to get eye-level with it and waited for it to wake up. 
After a couple of minutes it started to rouse and swam a little closer. 
We inched commando-style a yard and a half closer to the water’s edge taking a few pics as we did. 
The bird swam closer still and eventually filled the viewfinder. 
What a beauty it is, an adult, with a gorgeously speckled back and deep red eye – shame the light wasn’t a little brighter to highlight that. Really nice to get such close views and appreciate the finery of its plumage for a change. We do hope it’s not ill and going to keel over in the next few days as some of these inshore divers seem to do.
There wasn’t much else on the lake other than the Mallards, a few Tufted Ducks and the domestic geese, a couple of dozen Oystercatchers roosted on the far end of the island as it was a very high tide today.
As ever we ran out of time and had to walk half way back round the lake to the Land Rover, which was lucky because the local Jackdaws were chilling out on the bank waiting for a picnicker to chuck the remains of a sandwich or some chips out of their car window. We’ve not taken many pics of Jackdaws and they haven’t been particularly good so this was an opportunity not to be missed.
We checked the sea for the Scaup that has been seen occasionally in the river, most recently about a week ago but the estuary was devoid of birds. Close by on the car park wall were a pair of Herring Gulls looking very photogenic – we just had to snap away. 
Another few yards further on a small bird darted low across the car park over the wall and onto the freshly uncovered strandline at the base of the wall, a lovely male Pied Wagtail who simply refused to stay still long enough for us to get a shot or two off.  
And then it was back to work, a lovely hour in the fresh air really recuperates the batteries.
There's some more cracking pics here from BD's visit yesterday and SB today. One of them shows a smudge on the lower chest, is that summer plumage moulting through or is it oil or something? Hope the little chap(ess) is OK.
So turn you telly off and get out and watch the REAL soap opera playing right outside your back (and front) door.
Where to next? Anything could happen tomorrow - you just never know with this nature m'larky.
In the meantime let us know who's knocking the spots off what in your outback.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

A couple more patch scarces

The Safari has enjoyed a bit of Patch 2 luck this last couple of days. We've been able to have a look at the beach and sea but there;s not been a lot doing out on the waves, so we've been concentrating on the gulls on the beach. Not a lot to say, there haven't been very many of them. Yesterday we were about to cross back over the road when a Magpie (P2 #33) flew across the back garden at work. We had a smile like the proverbial Cheshire Cat, Magpies aren't quite annual here and if they do appear there's often only one or two records in any particular year. So there you have it a really commonplace species often ignored/overlooked totally out of context.
Mid-morning we had a meeting up town about a potential nature area that needs a good deal of (we hate to say it) 'tidying up' first. On a old manhole cover we saw a covering of moss which was nothing unusual but then growing through the green stuff was a thin line of red stuff. Is it a different species or been peed on by a mutt or growing on a vein of some mineral or other? Questions questions questions, that's the wonder of the natural world there's always something curious or unusual to mull over.
Today we were out again at lunchtime having a look at the gulls again when we noticed one pulling at a dead flatfish. Turned out it was caught on the hook the fish had been caught with and which was still attached to the line buried in the sand. A rescue mission was needed but as we approached we saw we couldn't cross the deep runnel in our office shoes, it really wasn't the sort of day for a paddle either, so we walked a long way round the pool by which time the gull had freed itself and was long gone. We did the right thing and recovered the offending article from the beach, it'll be a little gift for our fishing friends.
Back up on the wall we had a last quick quint at the gulls and promptly found a winter plumaged adult Mediterranean Gull (P2 #34) flying down the beach - what  a beauty! what a great way to end a lunch break.
Where to next? Would be good to make it three patch birds in three days wouldn't it - but will we.
In the meantime let us know who's been pulling on the wrong line in your outback.